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Set Your Sights on the Highlands

Photos: Dan Lim
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Set Your Sights on the Highlands

From Grist Mill Road to Letterkenny, Matawatchan Road to Red Rock, this ride has all the best roads

You've got to get out of the city and feel the rush once in a while. Ride the Highlands roads deliver thrills and scenery—and they're just a few hours away!



City life can be...well, stressful to say the least, especially in a large metropolitan city like Toronto. The endless construction of those new buildings popping up like weeds, combined with street construction, traffic congestion, and gridlock, can quickly grind on the nerves. The hordes of people going about their daily business in a cold, impersonal way, noise pollution, and the continuous hum of the city in the background contribute to living life feeling like a rubber band stretched to its limits. It's no wonder why so many urbanites crave to decompress from the daily hustle and bustle of city life and gravitate to the country's slower and much more relaxed pace. So when an opportunity came up for me to leave the city behind and do a two-day motorcycle ride with some moto buds, it was a no-brainer. I jumped on it quicker than you can say GO RIDE.

Riding the Ontario Highlands

Our destination was the Ottawa Valley region in Ontario Highlands, renowned as the Whitewater Capital of Canada and known for the great roads to carve up with your motorcycles. The region is approximately 3.5 hours northeast of Toronto and about 1.5 hours west of Ottawa. It's a place not too far from the big city, but far enough that you can feel the city stress and anxiety level exiting your body and mind as soon as you hit the city limits. Gorgeous, scenic countryside amidst breathtaking Canadian northland stimulates your senses, both from the saddle and behind the lens wherever you turn. If you're like me, an avid motorcyclist, and you love taking photos, then I suggest that this is an area that needs to be on your bucket list of places to tour on your bike.  

Highlands ride itinerary

We rode a scheduled 400 km on our two-day road trip, but to be honest with you, it was quite possibly more—much more. Some of the roads were so awesome to ride that the group had to ride them several times over because once just wasn't enough. Letterkenny Road and Centennial Lake Road are the famous "must-ride" roads, but again, you can turn your navigation in any direction, and I promise you, you wouldn't be disappointed. The twisties, the sweeping curves, up and down picturesque country roads and highways amidst dense forestry, tall pines, rivers, lakes, and the fresh smell of pine are spectacular. It is such a welcomed change from the white knuckle, stop-and-go kind of riding I'm so used to doing in the city.

As one would expect, the Ottawa Valley region is chock-full of heritage sights, grand lookouts, rich history, and tourist attractions for those riders who like to ride to those places and explore and learn about the region. Others simply want to spend as much time in the saddle as possible, chew up kilometers, and ride the endless roads. There's literally an adventure for every rider to see, learn and discover on two wheels.  

Here is just some of our awesome itinerary from our mini getaway:

Day #1: Approximately 250 km

The stretch of riding on Hwy 60 between Golden Lake and Eganville is a pleasant, relaxing ride through picturesque undulating farmland and pastures, with rich scenery of wooded hills and valleys on either side of the road.

Taking a wide sweeping curve on Hwy 60

Grist Mill Road from McCrae Look Out Park along the Bonnechere River is like a scene from the movie "A River Runs Through It." A fly fisherman's dream.

Wouldn’t you like to fish here?

Bonnechere Caves is a very worthwhile stop to see and explore one of Mother Nature's gems. These caves were formed from ancient limestone and are home to prehistoric fossils from millions of years ago.

Take a walk back in time with Chris Hinsperger, cave co-owner of 30 years, and learn all about the caves and bats!
A welcoming face at the Bonnechere Caves souvenir shop #supportlocal

The long stretch of road from Calabogie to Denbigh, especially Centennial Lake Road from Black Donald Road to Matawatchan Road, is what riding in Northern Ontario is all about, and it was, in my opinion, one of the most excellent roads on the trip. It is always scenic and full of beautiful sweeping, meandering roads, with loads of twists and turns and some technical riding for those who want to take it up a notch.

All the twists and turns to thrill riders of all levels on Centennial Lake Road.

Finally, Letterkenny Road to end an incredible day of riding. The famous road that has the same namesake as the Canadian comedy show on TV, which is also 18 km of riding goodness between the hamlets of Brudenell and Quadeville – absolutely a must-do, but please... leave the signs – haha!

Spectacular views from Letterkenny Road.
Enjoying the ride even when the sun decides not to come out.

Day #2: Approximately 165 km

Red Rock Road to Round Lake Road boasts some low-key, curvy, gently rolling roads around beautiful Round Lake, which is punctuated by the pristine wilderness of Foy and Bonnechere Provincial Park.

When you come around a bend and the scene opens up to this kind of vista. Pure joy.

A much-enjoyed stop was to Madawaska Coffee Co., in Barry's Bay. While visiting Barry's Bay, be sure to pop into Madawaska Coffee Co., for a great cup of joe before hitting the open road again, and don't forget to treat yourself to some of their delicious homemade pastries – their Maple Peacan Danish was seriously the best I've ever had.

Alex enjoying her coffee… maybe her second cup.
Dustin chowing down on some delicious pastries.

Siberia Road from Barry's Bay to Combermere is 35 km of twisty roads with unbelievable views from the saddle as you drop and rise through the elevation changes that descend into the Madawaska Valley.

Siberia Road with all it’s beauty.

Kamaniskeg Lake Lookout is a spectacular lookout vantage point to Kamaniskeg Lake and the surrounding area, and it's the perfect backdrop for the selfies and group shots you're going to take on your trip. Trust me. My crew and I staged a "Whack a Mole" Boomerang video against that spectacular background, and I have to say, that was a lot of fun! You can check out more posts on social media platforms at #comewander.

Perfect spot for a selfie or group shot.

Heartwood Restaurant in Combermere is an unassuming family-style restaurant whose menu offers made from scratch, delicious homemade food to fill your belly during, or after, your ride. It's another must-try establishment. I suggest ordering their Kale Caesar salad with chicken—it's impressive.

Beavertails in Killaloe. If you're a fan of Beavertails (and I am), then you've got to make the town of Killaloe one of your spots to visit. You might ask, what's so special about the Beavertails here, compared to other Beavertails you've tried? Well, this is the OG (Original Gangster) of all the Beavertails. In fact, the town of Killaloe is where it all started. Grant and Pam Hooker used their family recipe for fried dough and made it resemble a beaver's tail. They sold their first pastries at the Killaloe Craft and Community Fair in 1978, and as it's said, the rest is history. It literally is.

Riding buddies enjoying the original recipe beaver tails (cinnamon sugar with lemon) at the first Beavertails in Killaloe.

The Ottawa Valley in the Ontario Highlands region is a spectacular little getaway located not too far from the city. This was not my first time to have the pleasure of riding in the region, and for sure, it won't be my last. Each visit brings on new experiences from places to eat, stunning roads to discover, different scenic sites to visit, and cultural and historical sites that you may not have seen before and maybe didn't even know were there. The most exciting thing for me is the roads themselves. Every time I ride them, they always seem different depending on the seasons and even the weather—sunny, overcast, or even drizzle. Each day brings something different and unexpected. The roads there are like chameleons, as they always seem to change, even though they retain their familiarity. They are always exciting to ride as if it was the very first time all over again. The name Highlands is very fitting because every ride is a rush!

For more information to thoroughly explore the region, visit www.RideTheHighlands.ca

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